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National Gallery’s biennial touches on topical themes

Arts and Culture 13 May, 2021 Follow News

McDougall, Sara, Mission House Installation

Biennial Artists and Curators Gather at the Opening Reception

Deputy Premier Hon Chris Saunder with Rita Powell and Francine Jackson, Biennial Opening Reception

Jackson, John Reno, Botanic Park Installation

Message in a Bottle

2nd Biennial Installation View

SilverThatch Baskets recreated in glass by Davin Ebanks

By Lindsey Turnbull


Spanning the length and breadth of all three Cayman Islands, the National Gallery’s second biennial exhibition, Reimagined Futures, encompasses artwork by 41 of Cayman’s artists, who have used the once in every two years forum to touch on important themes of the day.

Curated by Kerri-Anne Chisholm, Paige Jordison, William Helfrecht, Maia Muttoo and National Gallery Director Natalie Urquhart, the large-scale exhibition originally had a selection committee choosing which work would make the cut comprising Amanda Coulson, Davin Ebanks and Emé Paschalides.

Mrs Urquhart said the biennial this year had really grown from year one.

“From the first biennial, it was always designed as a multi-island, multi-venue exhibition, but It’s come into its own this year in that it we’ve got type-specific work in various locations, rather than just finding venues to extend the exhibition to,” she explained.

While the majority of the exhibition is on display at the Gallery itself, with around 35 of the 41 artists exhibiting over its two lower galleries, the curators have also collaborated with four different venues for artwork display. These include the Owen Roberts International Airport, the National Trust’s Mission House, the QEII Botanic Park, the Little Cayman Museum, along with special programming in Cayman Brac.

“It’s been exciting to activate some of these other cultural spaces through art intervention and a lot of the topics have been hot discussion points during the election as well, so it really feels like its been responsive to community dialogue right now,” Mrs Urquhart stated. “The artists in general are really making a good job of reflecting that.”

Mrs Urquhart explained that biennials, by their very nature, were more ‘activist-type’ art projects rather than offering perhaps a more traditional idea of art as being beautiful to look at.

“It’s very dynamic work which is visiting topics that need to be discussed, so it a very exciting exhibition with a contemporary feel to it,” she confirmed.

The curatorial team asked the artists to use the upheavals that have taken place in the past year to shape their work and as a result, they tackled such issues as the impact of the pandemic, concerns relating to climate change and environmental stewardship, social equity and justice movements, and questions of identity and belonging in the wake of rapid changes within the Cayman Islands.

The resulting exhibition includes work created via a variety of media: from painting, photography and video, to collage, textiles, drawing and sculpture, as well as installation and video art.


Satellite projects and host venues

The Botanic Park is hosting artist John Reno Jackson’s mixed media environmental installation Untitled (2021), which, Mrs Urquhart said, was a really interesting installation comprises three outdoor canvas collages.

Reno created his artwork from recycled old canvases out of which he had already created collages and then he put them in free standing frames, setting them up in the middle of the park.

“It’s really cool as you walk about the park and see these paintings suddenly popping out of the bush,” Mrs Urquhart said. “Art interventions are about helping people rethink the place of art. It doesn’t have to be viewed in a museum and we want to activate these conversations all over our country, not just inside certain buildings, so we were very excited to work with Reno on this project.”

Space at the Little Cayman Museum is being used to showcase a mini exhibition with 10 artists. Mrs Urquhart said it was really an extension of the exhibition in Grand Cayman and should be viewed collectively.

In Bodden Town, the National Trust’s Mission House is hosting Sarah McDougall’s Not My Cup of Tea (2021), a dress made of repurposed tea bags.

Mrs Urquhart explained that the tea bags all had plastic in them, so the artist patched-worked them together by ironing the tea bags.

“The plastic melts and holds the tea bags together. It’s quite alarming when you think about that much plastic in our tea,” she said. “The dress is about consumption and sustainability, raising awareness of plastic in our consumption practices, but of course she has designed it as an 18th Century dress, so it also alludes to colonial history and the history of the tea trade itself, so we decided to place the dress in an historic space so we can begin activating conversations around colonial history.”

The work was completed with support from the artist’s Art & Design students at CIFEC.

Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport is another venue for the exhibition. Mrs Urquhart said the National Gallery had had a long partnership with the airport on their art programmes, so they are featuring an installation by artist Heidi Bassett Blair and the students of Montessori By the Sea entitled Messages in a Bottle (2017).

“They’ve repurposed old bottles and decorated them with lots of iconic repurposed materials from beach trash to silver thatch and then they placed their messages to future generations in the bottles,” she explained. “All the messages are environmentally-themed and it’s the concerns of the students as to how we are stewarding the environment, so it’s a very powerful installation of voices.”

Reimagined Futures runs until 27th August.

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